ExchangeEveryDay: Asking Thoughful Questions


ExchangeEveryDay: Asking Thoughtful Questions
August 21, 2012

ExchangeEveryDay is the official electronic newsletter for Exchange Press, Inc.

In her article, "Assessing Mathematical Learning: Observing and Listening to Children," in the Beginnings Workshop article collection, Numbers and Math, Juanita Cooper offers these suggestions for listening to children:

"Both parents and teachers question young children continually. Unfortunately, most of their questions involve particular behaviors ('Where is your coat?' 'What do you do when you sneeze?'), testing for particular knowledge ('How many pieces of candy do you have?' 'What is this shape?'), or reminders of previously-learned information ('What did I tell you to remember about numbers?' 'How many sides does a triangle have?'). While these samples are indeed questions, the most informative questions for assessment purposes are often the more probing, thoughtful ones. Some general question s that often provide interesting insights into a child's thinking are:
• What happened? How do you know?
• What would happen if . . . ?
• What else can you find that is like this?
• Is there any other way to show . . . ? Can you show me another way to . . . ?
• About how many . . . ? Why do you think so?
• How are these alike? How are they different?

"Some of the most interesting assessments occur as the teacher listens to the responses of young children to questions that probe children's initial responses. For example, when prekindergarten children measured themselves next to a large paper bear totem pole, many of them found that they measured 4 or 5 bears tall. The next day, when they measured themselves next to a totem pole made out of small paper bears, they found that their measurement had increased to 6 or 7 bears tall. When asked why the numbers got bigger, most children confidently responded with 'I growed!' or 'My brother stretched me' or 'I ate lots of food last night' or some similar response. Other children expressed puzzlement at the situation and stated that it was 'strange' or 'funny.' A few responded in amazement that the 'bears were different' and that is 'just how it is.'

"All of these responses inform the teacher's instruction and provide suggestions for how the teacher can best support a young child's learning."